The Texas Senate passed a bill that lets parents use $500 million in public school funds to pay for private schools and other programs that help kids learn. The bill could give more than 62,000 families a $8,000 Education Savings Account (ESA). The plan has a hard time in the Texas House because Democrats and rural Republicans who want to protect public schools usually block the bill.
Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, told NBC 5 that an ESA program might get enough votes if it comes with a big boost in money for public schools. The Texas Senate passed a bill that goes along with it Thursday night. It adds more than $5 billion to the state’s school funding systems.
Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, told NBC 5 that the amount of money being put into public schools is “unprecedented.” “and then separate over here as we fund the border and healthcare and the grid we’ve also got an appropriation of $500 million that will serve at best just over 60,000 kids out of five and a half million.”
The education committee in the Senate is led by Creighton. If it passes, the program will be run by Comptroller Glen Hegar, who will also check the money. According to the bill, as it stands, 40% would go to low-income public school students, 30% to families making up to 500% of the Federal poverty level, which is about $150,000 a year for a family of four, 20% to disabled and special needs students, and 10% could be used by 6,000 families whose child is homeschooled or already in a private school.
“At the end of the day, that makes sense.” A few years ago, there may have been kids from low-income families or with disabilities who were looking for a private school option. Sen. Creighton said, “That may give them a better chance to stay in that program that’s working so well for them.” Sen. Creighton said that there are no state strings tied at this time that require testing or other curriculum requirements. This is a big reason why many private schools don’t want to take the money.
Sen. Creighton said, “We worked very hard not to put strings or new standards on private schools that don’t exist right now.” He also said that the program could grow or end in the future, based on which legislatures are in power. Texas school districts are worried that this program will take money away from schools because, according to state rules, public school money goes to the student. Sen. Creighton tells NBC 5 that he thinks a small number of students moving for private or home schools won’t make a big difference because the number of students in public schools is growing all the time.
“We have incredible growth constraints to keep up with,” stated Sen. Creighton, “A number of ESAs is a fraction of a fraction of our total public school children that are out there.” Some 150 people in the Texas House must agree with a bill for it to pass. There are more than 60 Democrats in that group, and Democrats usually vote against school choice voucher programs because they think fewer kids will go to public schools, which would mean they have to close. They also don’t like the idea because they think it could lead to discrimination since private schools would be able to pick who to let in while public schools would not.
“Our tax money should go to our public schools, plain and simple.” That’s something we’ve kept saying. “Right now, in Dallas County, and especially in DISD, our scores are just starting to go up in our public schools,” said Rep. Venton Jones, D-Dallas. “This issue has been brought up many times, and each time we vote it down.” “We don’t understand why the Governor wants to waste taxpayer money on something we already voted on,” said Rep. Mihaela Pleasa, D-Collin County. Rural Republicans are also worried about things like how private schools will be treated differently than public schools since they will get public money without having to follow the same rules as public schools.
“Can someone be held responsible for this?” Will private schools agree to take the STARR test? Or will people who don’t go to school agree to take the STARR test? Is that fair if not? We put all of these conditions on the money we give to public schools. You need to do all of these things before a private school gives you a check. Spend it however you like. I don’t think anyone would agree that that’s fair and right,” Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, told NBC 5 earlier this year.